On this day of Thanksgiving, we set aside a day to remember God’s blessings, the bountiful gifts generously given from His hands. That is well and good – Having a day set aside specifically to focus on those things is a good reminder, much like we set aside a day each week for worship of God, while (hopefully) maintaining an attitude of worship throughout the week. Similarly, thanksgiving should be a state of our hearts, not just a day on our calendars. Cultivating an attitude of thanksgiving is a way of speaking God’s truths to ourselves daily, the truths of God’s blessings, the lavish love He pours out on His undeserving children.
In a culture that is increasingly self-focused and, consequently, focused on everything we don’t have, thankfulness and gratitude are graces every Christian should cultivate. How can I blame God for things that go wrong, if I am unshakably focused on thanking Him for the gifts that He gives? How can I be envious of others if I am determined to thank God for what He has given me? How can I not show grace towards others if I am living a life of gratitude for God’s grace towards me? How can I be resentful for my plans that have gone wrong, when I reflect in thanksgiving on the plans of God that are always right?
This attitude of thanksgiving isn’t easy to cultivate, and it is an attitude I fail at repeatedly. But might it not be because my vision of God’s blessings is incomplete? I, and likely all my brothers and sisters in the faith, tend to look for the big things, the big gifts, the miracles, the lightning bolts of God’s goodness, the indisputable signs of God’s providence. When my family gathers around the table for Thanksgiving dinner, we thank God for freedoms, faith, family, church community, the ability to homeschool, spiritual blessings, material blessings, the signs of God’s workings in our lives. Those things are indisputably God’s gifts and our response should be one of gratitude. But what if we have a day, or a year, or a decade, or a lifetime where we feel the weight of our own failure, or the wretchedness of the world, or experience loss, hardship, pain, tragedy? I would submit to you that God never ceases to work in our lives, and never ceases to shower blessings on us – We simply need the eyes to see those gifts. I would also submit to you that God works most often in our lives in small ways, through subtle means, a steady trickle of wonderful gifts, instead of the occasional deluge. Realizing that, there should never be a shortage of things to be thankful for, if we have the eyes to see, the ears to hear, the hearts to understand.
“We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts,” said Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I hope and pray for signs and unmistakable blessings, but what about the tiny things, the almost-invisible things? What about the small ways God has grown my faith? What about the gift of having any faith at all? Maybe this is why I love to look for beauty, to seek it out, be it as small and mundane as flakes of snow on a dried flowertop, or a drip of snow melt, or the way geese flock overhead in the cold winter sky – those things are reminders of the goodness of God.
I believe in a sovereign God, who orders all things and through whom all things are sustained. I believe that God is sovereign over the big things, like my family moving to South Dakota, and I continue to thank Him for that miracle in my life. But it also means He is sovereign over that cap of snow on the flower top, and the ringing calls of the geese that made me search them out in the clear, cold sky. He is sovereign over me seeing them, and He is sovereign over the joy I felt when I saw them. Those are as much a work of God as the fact that I now live in the place I love best in the world.
While I may not experience another “big miracle” for awhile, God gives the gift of beauty every day: the delicate stem of golden grass, the silver of sage beneath the snow, footprints on the frozen pond, the spark and flame of flakes continuing to fall in the sunlight, a nail driven deep into a snow-capped fencepost, the sound of geese overhead, the trickling tune of snow melt off the roof. And the awareness of that beauty is something that can be cultivated.
Even in the midst of failure, tragedy, fear, even when my faith seems small, I can always look to the sky and see evidence of God’s goodness. I can look to the earth and see the tiny things He has fashioned with His hands. I can look around me and see beauty that God has poured into this world, in the midst of bleakness, sorrow, and pain.
God gives those gifts and the capacity to enjoy them: eyes to see that beauty, ears to hear it, a tongue to taste the sweetness of the winter air, fingers to reach up to catch the snowflakes, lungs to breathe deep of the burning, sparkling cold, cheeks to blush and glow in the chapping breeze.
Although I can and do reflect on the blessings God has given me, the “big miracles,” I never have to look past today to see the blessings He is giving me now, the constant reminders that there is a God in the Heavens who is worthy of my adoration and praise. What a wonderful God to lavish such wonderful blessings. What wonderful blessings to bear witness to such a God.